Tag: #amwriter

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 5

The list was mocking me.

Smoothing the creases out of the paper, I stared at the names written there. And they stared back.

There were five names. I had dated others over the years, but these five were the ones I remembered the best. These were the ones who had the biggest impact on my personality – on my life – and the ones I needed some level of clarity from.

Should I start at the beginning with Chris, my first love? Or should I start at the end and reach out to Joey from college first?

I was still in social media contact with Chris. We were an item off and on through high school, staying close friends into college. I couldn’t help grinning whenever I thought about him. There was an old saying about how you never forgot your first love. That certainly held true for me. Chris would always fill a special place in my heart.

We were barely teenagers when we first became friends. To be honest, middle school – and genetics – hadn’t been kind to me. But there came a point when I was 14 that I decided to make a change.

I had been the quiet, nerdy girl with wild hair and glasses, afraid of her own shadow, ignored in the back of the room. But after a particularly harsh rejection from a boy I had liked, I made a conscious decision to be different. I started participating in class, only raising my hand if no one else would – I mean, boys didn’t like smart girls, after all. I made jokes under my breath that only the people close by heard, but I made them laugh. I talked to the people I was most intimidated by and pretty soon I didn’t have to work so hard.

While Chris was my first love, he wasn’t my first boyfriend. That was Jerry.

Jerry was two years older than I was, cute in a rough kind of way. I saw Jerry at a basketball game and we spent most of the night sharing surreptitious flirty smiles. Until Kelly had had enough. She simply marched over to Jerry, grabbed his elbow, and dragged him over to introduce us. She didn’t know him, she just was tired of my bullshit.

I loved that woman.

Jerry was shy and sweet. He was pretty decent at small talk and was always a gentleman. He’d walk me to class and walk me home after school. He called me every night and gave me daily compliments. Not bad for a first boyfriend! Jerry was not, on the other hand, a very good kisser. He was my first kiss, too, but even I could tell something wasn’t quite right.

Nice guy, Jerry. But it didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing substantial in our conversations. I was 15! I had read Wuthering Heights, Emma, and Somewhere in Time more than once – I wanted romance. I wanted to be swept off my feet by a boy who could get my heart racing with his personality. Jerry was not that boy. So, I broke up with him after about six weeks.

There’s very little that will boost a teen girl’s confidence like having – and breaking up with – an older boyfriend. From this new self-assurance, I found myself talking to Chris.

He sat behind me in our history class. He was funny and adorable, crushed on by many, but with zero ego about it. He played football and basketball – good at both, but not a star in either. Chris got good grades, he was well-liked by everyone, and didn’t seem to get pulled into high school popularity politics. Chris lived on a farm and belonged to 4-H. He was respectful, got up to some harmless shenanigans with a handful of good friends, and loved his mom.

One day in history class, I turned around and just started talking to him – I must have been feeling a little flirty and full of myself. I don’t remember that first conversation being anything earth-shattering, but I know I turned around the next day, and the next. Then he started tapping my shoulder to get me to turn around. I do have a vague recollection of painting his fingernails one day in class. Why I had nail polish with me, I don’t know. But that adorable, blond, curly-haired boy sat there, listening to me ramble on about what I can only imagine was drivel, and let me paint his nails a fetching shade of pink.

The weeks we spent getting to know each other was exactly what I had always dreamed of. It was so effortless to talk to Chris. I never felt self-conscious around him. We talked about everything and anything. He was smart and funny, challenging me when I needed it but supporting me always. My mom would have to threaten me to make me get off the phone when he and I got going.

He quickly became my favorite person. We sat next to each other on the shuttle bus, finding little ways to touch each other: on the shoulder, or the arm, sitting close enough for our legs to touch. It was obvious to everyone around us what was going on, but neither of us had the gumption to pull the trigger. Until a girl from our class forced his hand.

She turned around in her seat on the bus, sitting up on her knees, watching Chris and me goof around.

“Chris!”

We both looked up and she waved me off.

“Not you, Alexis! Just Chris!”

I rolled my eyes and covered my ears. She pulled a fake whisper – we were on a bus full of high schoolers, she couldn’t have whispered to the person in the seat next to her, much less to Chris five seats back.

“You two are so cute together. Why don’t you ask her out?”

Even years later, that memory made my cheeks burn and my heart race. But that darling young man didn’t miss a beat. He turned to me with a smile.

“How about it? Want to be my girlfriend?”

It was a little blunt – he had been put on the spot – but it had worked on me. I smiled for days. And the girl made sure to take credit for getting us together.

After graduation, Chris’s life took a different path than mine. While we were flirting through emails in college, he and his girlfriend – still in high school – had gotten pregnant and they got married right after she graduated.  They weren’t together anymore, but from what I heard, he was a devoted and loving father and never had a bad word to say about his ex.

I traced my fingers over the letters of his name and frowned.

As Kelly and I were leaving the park the other day, she asked a question that had been scratching at the back of my mind ever since.

“Is there maybe another reason you want to talk to these guys?”

Brushing the dirt and grass off my pants I frowned at her.

“What do you mean? What other reason?”

She shoved her hands in her pockets and started walking. It took her almost a block before she answered me.

“You say you want to talk to them to make sure you don’t screw up your relationship with Jamie. But…” Kelly peeked at me from the corner of her eye. “But could it be that you’re scared you still have unresolved feelings for the names on that list? You’re afraid that you missed something with one of them and you want to just…” She waved a hand in the air. “Check?”

“No!”

My denial was loud and immediate. I had no doubt that I loved Jamie. I could see myself with him for the rest of our lives, raising a family, growing old.

Happy.

But ever since she brought it up, the idea had been burrowing deeper into my brain. Was that my ulterior motive? I mean, my recent behavior was crazy enough as it was. But to think that I was looking to rekindle something with one of these guys from my past instead of being ecstatic to marry Jamie…?

I laid my head on the table, groaning.

What the hell was I doing?

romance, romantic, Valentine's Day

Sappy Stuff for Valentine’s Day

I have had a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day for most of my life. It never seemed to live up to the earth-shattering romantic reputation I was sold as a young girl.

Instead, I lived vicariously through the books and movies I cherished so much –  until I found my very own true love.

To this day, I don’t put much emphasis on the holiday. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate romance. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some movies, books, and television moments that really mean Love to me.

  • Somewhere In Time

    This movie was released in 1980 – I was nine – and I was immediately swept away by it. The music, the clothing, the charm and beauty of the whole thing still makes my heart swell. I particularly adore the scene where Richard and Elise share their first kiss, full of anticipation and longing and…well, you can watch it for yourselves here.

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

    This is, most definitely, NOT what love should be. Heathcliff is wicked and cruel, Catherine is haughty and vain. Together, they are the epitome of a toxic relationship and everyone around them suffers for it. When I saw the 1939 movie, it drew me in and has kept this tragic story in my heart. The romance of this book might be summed up in this quote: “…so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

  • Love Actually

    Anyone who knows me at all knows this is one of my most cherished movies. It is rife with romantic gestures. While I see many people citing the “To me, you are perfect” scene as the most romantic, I think it’s a bit creepy. Instead, my favorite is the Portuguese restaurant scene in which Jamie butchers the language he has struggled to learn just to profess his love for Aurelia. It is an awkward scene – but also incredibly heartfelt. “…but it’s Christmas so I just wanted to…check.”

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

    I enjoy the television portrayal of this story, but I LOVE the book. Why does a historical novel that is more than 600 pages rank so high on my list of romance? James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Diana Gabaldon has written, in my opinion, the best fictional male character ever. And it’s not just Jamie that speaks to the nature of true love, but the relationship between him and Claire. Their love slowly builds from necessity, through mutual respect, into implicit trust. They support and challenge each other throughout the story and they are, to me, the embodiment of real love.

  • New Girl: “Pilot”

    Yes, the very first episode. This show is one of my favorites and, having been perusing clips for this post, I will now binge the whole series from the beginning. Again. This scene sets the tone for the entire show and is probably one of the sweetest things ever on television. It is bumbling and embarrassing and hilarious. And I hope everyone, everywhere, gets to feel this special at least once in their lives.

  • Notting Hill

    I don’t know that this movie would have worked as well without this particular cast. The chemistry is phenomenal. There are many adorable, tender moments: the “surreal but nice” scene; the “stay forever” scene; and this one where Anna bears her heart and soul. I will watch this anytime, anywhere.

There are, undoubtedly, many other romantic songs, books, movies, and television moments that should have made this list, but these are near and dear to me. Remember that you don’t need a holiday to fall in love or to tell people how you feel. If you tell them – and show them – every day, then every day will feel like Valentine’s Day.

What are some of your go-to romantic moments? Do you agree with my choices or think there are better examples? Comment below!

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 4

Lying on our backs in the grass, my best friend and I contemplated the clouds, letting the sun and the breeze bathe us in warmth.

“Tell me the plan again?”

I rolled onto my side and propped my head on my hand. “Kelly, it’s really not that complicated. I need to talk to the other men I was in love with –“

“Boys.”

“What?”

Kelly flipped onto her side so she could face me. “Boys, Lex. They were all boys. Don’t kid yourself.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Well, they’re men now. I have a list. It’s not long, but it’s significant. Each name on this list was an important part of my love life, of my growth. I only know my side of things. I want to know theirs. The idea is to find each of them and talk about what went wrong, like John Cusak did in Hi Fidelity. But without the massive ego and the obliviousness to other people’s feelings.”

Laughing, Kelly rolled to her back again.

“Am I the Jack Black character in this scenario, or the Joan Cusak one?”

We both laughed and I told her, “Definitely Joan! It is your duty to be my sounding board and to tell me when I’m being an asshole.”

She paused for just a beat. “Alexis?”

“Hmm?”

“You’re being an asshole.”

I swatted at her, but she rolled out of my reach and splayed out on her stomach while we laughed. She was my best friend for exactly that reason. She saw through my bullshit and wasn’t afraid to call me on it.

She had been around for every name on that list. Starting in 6th grade, when we shared a locker and sat by each other in the flute section of the band. Kelly had shared my joy and dried my tears – and I had done the same for her. When her mom died our junior year and she couldn’t stand being in their empty house all alone, she lived with me until her dad moved back to town just to take care of her. While we weren’t at the same college, we stayed in constant contact and no one ever took her place. She was the one who encouraged me to talk to Jamie one night at a karaoke bar and for that, I would be forever in her debt.

“Do you think this is honestly the best way to go about things?”

I started pulling blades of grass out of the ground, one by one.

“Kell, I don’t know. That’s the worst part – I don’t know! I love Jamie. So much. The idea of not being with him is terrifying to me. But the idea of marrying him, of thinking I’ll be with him for the rest of our lives, only to watch things fall apart is eating me alive. I have to do this.”

Kelly didn’t say anything for a minute, her brow wrinkled as she mulled over my words.

“What did Jamie say about all this?”

I shrugged.

“You know. The same amazing Jamie things he always says: he’d be here when I was ready, that he’d give me all the time I needed to be sure. That he didn’t have any doubts about marrying me. God, he made me so mad!”

She sat straight up and turned an annoyed look on me.

“You need to be medicated, you know that? You need drugs and therapy. LOTS of therapy.”

I grinned up at her.

“That’s why I keep you around.”

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 3

Up. Down. Twist, twist. Up. Down. Twist, twist.

I watched the rhythmic motion of the coffee sleeve as Jamie fiddled with it. He still hadn’t looked at me.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“No.” His gaze flicked to my face for a millisecond as I answered. “But I think it’s what I need.”

He nodded absently.

Up. Down. Twist, twist.

“I can’t say I understand why you want to postpone the wedding. I thought you wanted to get married. I thought you wanted to marry me.”

His voice was so quiet I could barely make out the words over the sound of the patrons around us. God, I was hurting him, and it was shattering my heart in my chest.

I really was a monster.

“I do want to marry you! I really do! It’s just…You know I love you, right? More than anything?” His hands stopped moving as I paused, then resumed their steady, distracted activity. “I can’t explain it. I just want to see…I need to make sure…it’s not that…”

I raked my hands through my hair and slammed against the back of the seat. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. I clasped my hands in my lap, pulling every muscle in tight and I held very still. I was losing control of the situation.

“Shit! This is coming out all wrong. I practiced what I was going to say a hundred times and it came out so much better than this!”

The corner of his mouth twitched into a smirk, the closest thing to a smile I’d seen since we sat down here thirty minutes ago. Maybe since he heard I climbed out that window.

“Only a hundred?” He flicked his eyes up to me then back at the table. I released my hands and relaxed  just a little.

“Well, maybe not a hundred times – but that’s not far off!”

How could I make him understand? I wanted to marry him. I loved him. But over the course of the last month, since he proposed and I accepted, I started worrying. It’s a thing I did, all the time, over everything. I had been in love before – at least I thought I had been. Why hadn’t those other relationships worked out? I had fallen out of love with other men, or they with me. Who was to say that this relationship, this love, wouldn’t fall to the wayside, just like the rest? In line with my regular prep work and checking and double-checking, I needed to find out why my previous loves had fizzled out – and how to ensure this one wouldn’t. Jamie was the best thing in my life and I couldn’t stand the thought of  finding out too late I wasn’t the best thing in his.

I watched him for a few minutes, neither of us speaking. I didn’t know what else to say. Finally, he sighed and shrugged.

“I mean, I can’t make you marry me. If you need some time to figure things out, to make absolutely sure this is what you want, then time is what you’ll have. And you know I’ll be here whenever you’re ready.”

He was so accepting, so matter-of-fact, that I was immediately angry. One of the traits I had always adored about him was, at this moment, pissing me off. I wanted him to yell at me, to tell me not to go. I wanted to hear that he was scared, too, that his feelings weren’t so indisputable – and that we’d be okay anyway.

Leaning forward with both palms flat on the table I hissed, “Aren’t you at least a little bit afraid?”

At that, his head snapped up, his expression placid, his eyes like steel.

“No. Not at all.”

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 2

This is a new series I’m working on that I want to share with all of you. Each week, I will post another chapter. I hope you enjoy it!

I am not known for wild behavior. I don’t think anyone has ever described me as “unreliable,” “reckless,” or “flakey.” When I say I’m going to be somewhere, you can count on me. I am ten minutes early to all appointments. I prepare a “just-in-case” bag when I meet up with people, filled with things someone might need based on the situation. I plan meals for two weeks ahead of time and have Christmas presents purchased and wrapped before Thanksgiving.

Responsible. I have no doubt that will be etched into my gravestone.

So when I climbed out the window at the bridal boutique and disappeared, my family was frantic. I refused to answer my phone. I checked into a nondescript motel on the opposite side of town with nothing but the clothes on my back and whatever was in my purse. The only contact I accepted was from Jamie. My fiancé.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“People are worried about you. Your mom is about to call the police.”

I groaned. Of course she was. Overdramatic, as per usual.

“God, I’m sorry to have put you in this position, Jamie. It’s not fair. But could you…”

He chuckled.

“I’ll tell her I talked to you and that you are definitely NOT dead in a ditch.” There was a slight pause. “Do I get to know where you are?”

I slid from the bed to the floor, the phone pressed against my ear. “Jamie…”

He immediately backpedaled. “No, right. I understand. You need some space. That’s cool. I’m cool. Take whatever time you need.”

“Thanks,” I sighed. Good old Jamie. He was my rock and my favorite person. I knew he’d never push me. He would let me have my nervous breakdown and would cover for me for as long as I asked him to. If I needed clothes or money or even my passport, he’d find a way to get them to me, no questions asked. There had never been a better man on the planet than my Jamie. He was my ride-or-die.

And I was a monster for treating him like this.

“Just promise you’ll talk to me about this when you’re ready, okay?”

After a few more assurances, a few more apologies, and a plethora of thank yous, I told Jamie I loved him and hung up the phone.

I stared at the cell in my hand for several minutes. He didn’t deserve this. Everything about him was perfect for me: He was funny and kind. He loved to cook and was excellent at it. He loved animals and kids and old people. We’d been together for two years and when he asked me to move in with him – and I declined – he didn’t bat a lash. It wasn’t a major crisis and he didn’t automatically assume I didn’t love him. Where I was tightly wound and had to have a color-coded list or schedule for everything, Jamie was content to go with the flow. He even talked me down from the ledge whenever my intricate plans went off-course and I was convinced my whole life was ruined. Like I said, he was my rock. But he was also my soft place to land when things went off the rails.

So why was I afraid to marry him?

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 1

This is a new series I’m working on that I want to share with all of you. Each week, I will post another chapter. I hope you enjoy it!

I can’t do this.

Alone in the dressing room, my heart was racing and my palms were sweating. What made me think I was ready for this? I was 25 years old – barely an adult – and yet here I was. Trying on dresses for a wedding.

For MY wedding.

I stared at the woman in the mirror, knowing she looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her. Dark curls stifled in a French knot, lacy veil cascading over her shoulders, a sleek white dress hugging her curves. She was frozen in space and time, unable to move forward but unable to go back. Trapped in this room, trapped in planning a wedding, trapped in a life she wasn’t ready for and wasn’t sure she wanted.

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe.

Squeals of delight filtered through the door, snapping me out of my trance. I had to get out of here. This was all wrong, this was the personification of my nightmares. I tore the veil off my head, painfully pulling some bobby pins out in the process. I continued to yank at the rest until my hair was free and wild down my back. Then I twisted and contorted myself to reach the clamps holding the too-big dress on my frame so I could shimmy out of the lace and satin straightjacket. I left it pooled on the floor as I tugged my jeans up over my hips and zipped my hoodie.

Slipping into my shoes, I tiptoed to the door. God, I hoped the saleswoman wasn’t on her way back with more dresses. I didn’t want to knock her down like a linebacker, but by god, if she got in my way that’s exactly what was going to happen! Opening the door barely a crack, I peeked into the hallway. Another party of excited young women were gathered around a mirror, oohing and aahing over the teary-eyed bride-to-be in her enormous white flounces. My stomach clenched, trying to suffocate the terrified butterflies trying to burst free.

When I felt the coast was clear, I slid out of the room, pulling the door closed behind me. I strolled down the hall, my hood pulled close over my head. The exit sign was right in front of me, just at the end of the hallway – I was almost out! I was in such a panicked state that I hadn’t stopped to think about my mom, my sisters, my best friend, waiting in the lounge for me. They’d be so freaked out when they realized I was gone.

Eh, they had champagne to entertain them – they wouldn’t miss me for at least another hour.

Three feet from the exit, I heard Janice, the sales attendant, calling my name.

“Alexis! What are you doing out here? Can I help you find something?”

Shit. I was SO CLOSE. I spun around with what I hoped was a pleasant expression.

“I was looking for the bathroom…?”

Janice forced a smile and inclined her head to my left. “Right there.” The smile didn’t reach her eyes and her voice was falsely upbeat. I didn’t blame her. She was nearly buried in a pile of new dresses for me to try on after putting up with my shenanigans all morning. I had been pretty difficult: One dress was too big, another was too slutty, the next accentuated my many lumps and bumps. I had shown my entourage one dress in more than an hour.

Janice probably hated me, and with good reason.

I shrugged an apology and ducked into the bathroom. Leaning against the door with eyes shut, I waited, counting to ten. That should be enough time for Janice to get back to the room so I could escape without her seeing me.

A sudden rapping on the door made me jump.

“Oh, Alexis? I brought five more dresses to the room – I know THE ONE is in this batch! I’m not sure if you remember the room number so I’ll just wait here for you!”

Great.

Opening my eyes, I glanced around, deciding to make myself comfortable until I could come up with an excuse to cut this torture short. Diarrhea? For sure. She’d probably shove me out the door herself. I just needed to give it a few more minutes to make it believable. Then my eyes landed on the window and another idea started to form.

It didn’t take much effort to pry it open – I just hoped it wasn’t hooked up to some security system that would give away my hasty retreat. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to squeeze all my parts through, but at least the window opened into a deserted alley. Over a closed and fairly clean dumpster, no less. With a little effort, I was able to shimmy through the opening onto the lid. Once on the ground, I straightened my sweatshirt, fluffed my hair, and slipped my purse over my shoulder.

Then I ran like hell.

Have You Met…Derek Franklin

Editing is coming along slowly, but I am enjoying getting to know my characters all over again! Previously I introduced you to Katie Parker. Now I’d like you to meet her delightful boyfriend, Derek Franklin.

Growing up in San Francisco and traveling extensively for work, Derek finds Katie’s small-town demeanor fascinating. Where she is quiet and awkward, Derek is charming with self-confidence oozing out of every pore. He is beautiful, turning heads everywhere he goes. More than once he is compared to sunshine – when he turns his attention to you, you can’t help but respond to the warmth. Women want him, men admire him, and mere mortals long simply to be near him.

I immediately saw Derek as the exquisite and adorable Chris Hemsworth. To be honest, I never paid attention to the actor until Thor: Ragnarok and his portrayal of Kevin in Ghostbusters. Seeing a far less serious side of him made him exponentially more appealing, and I definitely see that in Katie’s relationship with Derek.

But Derek has secrets. There is another layer to him, one that few get to see. Only Katie knows the way he manipulates and controls the people around him. While she sees glimpses of his darker personality, Katie is shocked when she learns the truth about him. Underneath the dazzling smile lie shadows that only come to light when it’s too late.

Derek Franklin is the perfect boyfriend, the perfect employee, the perfect male specimen. But Katie soon comes to realize that when you get too close to the sun, you can get burned…

Short Story: Watching

My editorial calendar says today’s blog post is supposed to be a book review. Well, I am fully unprepared to do that today. Instead, I will be sharing my latest creepy short story with you!

My family will agree that inside my mind is a mysterious and sometimes frightening place. I consider myself to be friendly and pleasant with a big imagination and an alarming amount of anxiety. These factors, coupled with the amount of Criminal Minds in my mental repertoire, are the generous sponsors of this little gem. Enjoy!

 

Watching

He took a drag off his cigarette, his eyes lighting up from more than the glow of the embers. She sure was beautiful. Flipping her long blonde hair over her shoulder, raising her eyebrows in a flirtatious challenge. His heart skipped a couple beats.

When she smiled, he could feel the warmth of it, even from this distance. Her eyes sparkled in amusement at something she heard around her, and she threw her head back to laugh. So free. So full of life.

She was so animated as she talked. Shrugging her shoulders one minute, pouting the next, her arms waving to punctuate whatever point she was trying to make. It seemed as though a light surrounded her, drawing him in, and he was powerless against it.

He licked his lips, imagining how her mouth would taste. That necessitated a shift in his stance, since his body reacted strongly and immediately to that idea. It was okay, though, she wouldn’t notice how excited she made him. She couldn’t even see him.

But she would.

Crushing out the spent cigarette, he quickly picked it up and pocketed it. He certainly didn’t want to leave his trash around – especially when it would have traces of his DNA on it. Once he introduced himself to the object of his affection, he knew the very spot he was standing would be scrutinized thoroughly. He sure as hell wasn’t going to make things easy.

This was his favorite time of year, the early winter. It wasn’t too cold yet, but cold enough that doors and windows were closed. It got dark pretty early, too. No one ever noticed him walking on the path behind the row of houses. He could find a solitary spot to set up for the night before the residents were even home from work. And they were never the wiser.

His lip curled as he lit another smoke. These people. They fancied themselves so far removed from any danger just because they lived in a nice suburban neighborhood. With their big houses, expensive cars, fancy security systems, they felt so safe. Even though it was pitch black outside, it was barely dinner time, so there was no reason to set the alarm quite yet – that would happen just before they all went to bed. At least it seemed that’s the way they went about their lives every night.

They’d arrive home just after dusk, flipping on their lights, rifling through their mail. Always leaving their curtains and blinds open. Dummies. It was almost like a delicatessen or a bakery, allowing him to make his selection based on what he could see, displaying their wares just for him. It was the ultimate in window shopping.

He chuckled at his own joke.

Husbands kissing wives, kids begging for this toy or that new gadget, dinners being made or delivered. He could see it all. He watched it all. The sliding glass doors shining brightly, like a movie screen just for him, letting him peek into the lives he would interrupt very soon.

Yes, the blonde. She was definitely the winner. He could see her smiling up at a man – Husband? Boyfriend? Lover? Didn’t matter. They were all the same to him. Merely an obstacle to be overcome, an appetizer before the main course. Damn. There went his libido again, trying to jump the gun. He adjusted himself and took a few deep calming breaths, to remind himself he had to wait – it would be so much sweeter if he could just wait.

While he had a general plan he followed every time, he cocked his head to the side and tried to determine the best order to do things with this family. Kids first – always the kids first, there was no need for them to suffer in terror for long. It was usually his plan to take them out immediately so they didn’t have to face the fear that would be visited upon their parents. But would the blonde or her husband be the most satisfying?

The man was tall and thin, didn’t look like a fighter – more of an accountant. In a suit and tie, probably didn’t even own a hunting knife, much less a gun or any kind of survival skills. It should be easy enough to subdue him so he could enjoy the show. That was always how he liked to work. Maybe this guy could even be a participant this time. That was something he hadn’t tried yet. He wasn’t opposed to taking the man, too, it just hadn’t really occurred to him before. And then, after…then he could focus on the blonde.

His eyes closed as a thrill ran through him. The thrill of the chase. The ecstasy of seeing the confusion and fear as she ran. That was almost the best part. The moment she realized exactly what was happening – what was going to happen – and that she was powerless against it. He could tell this one would be a screamer. Delicious. She would beg and plead, try to bargain, try to figure out what she had done to deserve this. There would be tears, many, many tears, and he would lap them up like mother’s milk.

The anguish of the significant other who felt he had failed to protect his family…that was almost as satisfying. They always yelled, made threats they had no way to carry out, offered him money. He sneered. It almost always came down to money. That’s not why he got into this recreational activity. He never took anything with him – just the sights, sounds, smells of the encounter. That’s all he needed.

Creeping closer to the edge of the tree line, he leaned against a trunk where he could see the scene a little better. The man hovered around the pretty blonde, pecking her on the cheek every now and then. Oh yes, he would feel guilt. And shame. The last thoughts in the husband’s head would be of despair and self-loathing.

Voices on the trail behind him caught his attention. He froze and cupped his cigarette in the palm of his hand to hide the glow. It was a pair of middle-aged biddies, power walking and chatting up a storm, arms pumping nearly as fast as their jaws. Neither one even glanced in his direction, although he heard one complain, “Ugh – can you smell that? Someone must be out on their back porch sneaking a smoke. I hate having to walk through that! Anyway, Louise was just devastated, and the stylist refused to fix the color…”

The sound of their droning faded into the night. Did they have even an inkling of how close they passed to death just then? No one ever saw him among the trees. Was there nothing left in people, in the modern Homo Sapien, that triggered that sense of danger? No wonder it had gotten easier and easier for him to satiate the need for violence that he’d been carrying inside him most of his life. These meat sacks all around him had gotten soft and weak. He was the apex predator now. And these rich neighborhoods were full of easy picking.

It wasn’t just the complacency that gave him nearly free reign. People were more isolated now than ever before. Most of these folks barely knew their neighbors’ names, much less paid any attention to what was going on in their homes. He lived in a society of ‘none of my business’ where everyone was afraid to stick their noses where they weren’t invited. The busy body with the binoculars on that one show about the witch might have saved a few lives, had she been the norm now. Glancing from house to house on display in front of him, he shook his head and sneered. Even if there was screaming or yelling or even a gunshot, not one of these lazy pieces of garbage would do more than peer out the window, pressing their faces against the glass and shading their eyes to see in the dark a little better. But it would be too late.

Okay, one more cigarette and then the kids would be in the basement while the parents were curled up in the den above them. Each would have their own idiot box commanding their attention – the adults watching scary movies or reality tv and the kids engrossing themselves in the latest bloody video game, their headphones firmly in place to block out any distractions.

He’d been watching them for close to a week. A WEEK. During the day, he would show up at his job, clean and handsome and charming. Making eye contact and small talk with everyone who stopped into his store. Some he even got to know by name, they spoke to him so frequently. Pushing the dark drive down inside himself for so long had taught him how to appear ‘normal’. He was a pro at showing his teeth and asking if there was anything else he could do for them. A wink here and there almost always produced a pretty blush in the housewives who smiled so invitingly at him. Through mimicry he had perfected the most disarming tone of voice that put people at ease almost immediately. When families came up missing or when bloodied and violated bodies were discovered, no one ever thought of him as ‘suspicious’.

Picking up the latest spent filter and tucking it away, he shifted his weight from one foot to another. The kids were getting settled, he could see them through the walk-out basement sliders. Checking all the other windows, he grinned when blondie and her beau settled themselves down to stream some mind-numbing television and ignore their offspring. God, this was going to be easy.

Whoever planned out this neighborhood obviously didn’t have any kind of darkness inside them. A person who had at least a little bad inside would have thought like a monster for at least a minute and tried to figure out how to thwart one. But no…there were no fences, no barriers at all – unless you counted the line of trees that had been left standing after the cement for the path had been poured. But really, anyone with half a criminal mind would have seen it for the perfect camouflage it was. There was barely fifty feet of yard separating the trail from the back of the house. Pulling on his second pair of latex gloves, he threw a silent “thank you” to the powers that be. None of this would have been possible without all of you milk toast suburban developers.

He hated wearing the gloves but it was a necessary precaution in these endeavors. It was so easy to leave fingerprints – there was no way, in the throes of ecstasy, to remember every single surface you had touched to wipe it down after. He had started wearing two pairs of gloves after a particularly lively encounter that had ripped a hole in the fingertip of his solitary pair. No sir, that was not a risk he would take again, no matter how much the gloves interfered with the full sensation of feeling a life leave a body.

Walking through the back yard, he was able to take his time. No one here had dogs, no one here looked out their windows – hell, a lot of them were covered now. But not this one’s. The angle from outside the house let him see into both the den on the first floor and the basement game room at the same time. The anticipation was glorious, knowing what was coming and knowing that they…didn’t.

Oh, his heart was racing and he was no longer able to control his arousal. Pulling the gun out of the back of his waistband with one hand and rubbing the front of his jeans with the other, his tongue darted out to lick his lips. This was it. God, it had been so long. A quick slide of the basement door, two head shots through the silencer, then it was up the stairs for the main course. A solid shot to the shoulder – maybe one to the knee – would put mister man down pretty good, and then the panic would begin. Her eyes would fly open wide, not sure what she just saw, and she would freeze in uncertainty. It was getting harder and harder to keep his hand away from his crotch now, but no – not yet. The knife was burning a hole in his pocket and it was the wet work that this was all about. If he could just hold onto that arousal without giving in for another thirty minutes – sixty, tops – it would be so worth it.

As he expected, the walk-out door was unlocked. He slid it open just far enough for him to slip inside, shutting and locking it behind him. When he turned and lifted the gun, the older kid saw him in the screen’s reflection and his mouth made a horrified “O” before his brains marred the image and his brother had time to react. Two quick shots, older brother first, no suffering. No kid deserved that.

His eyes were lit up with excitement, his breathing fast and shallow – oh thank god, it was finally time! – and he crept up the stairs. Silently, slowly, there was no need to rush. No one had heard a thing. His teeth were bared in a wide, delirious grin as he reached the main floor. He could see the flickering of the television from the room in the hall.

It was time, at last, to meet the neighbors…

 

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